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The Themes of Cultural Geography Rethought Philip L. Wagneb* Adozen years ago Marvin Mikesell and I published our Readings in Cultural Geography.1 It seems that no one since that time has been so rash as we were in our bold attempt to give a structure to that portion of our discipline. Apart from articles selected from a rather large initial harvest to compose as unified a logical system as possible, there were not only pointed introductions to each section, picking out the main consistencies and key transitions, but also a longish introductory essay entitled "Themes of Cultural Geography,"2 the purpose of which was to give definitive shape to our conception of what had been accomplished up to then in the subdiscipline. I take this opportunity to renounce my earlier conception of cultural geography, as presented in the Readings, and through reexamination of its bases and its uses to set out in search of more adaptable, productive ways of interpreting and interrelating the works of individual cultural geographers. Culture and Culture Area Looking now at that essay on the "Themes of Cultural Geography," I am struck, as an entire generation of students must have been, with a kind of smugness inherent in the notion of the five neat themes that summed up everything. It was * Presidential address presented at the annual banquet of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, Corvallis Country Club, Corvallis , Oregon, June 13, 1974. Dr. Wagner is Professor of Geography at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6. 1 Philip L. Wagner and Marvin W. Mikesell, eds., Readings in Cultural Geography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962). 2 Ibid., pp. 1-24. 8 ASSOCIATION OF PACIFIC COAST GEOGRAPHERS almost theological. Even more apparent, however, was the portrayal of cultural geography as the study of small, reasonably isolated, nearly homogeneous communities. One can take seriously the notion of culture as closely shared symbols, norms, values, habits, and even possessions when one pictures it as nestled in a mountain valley somewhere, populated by a thousand or so folk all by themselves, but it seems less plausible to apply such a notion to the United States or China. Cultural geographers and their spiritual kin in anthropology and archaeology could formerly find isolates enough to keep them busy, and our position in 1962 still reflected the predominantly rustic, small-community orientation of the subject. Everyone seems to know this by now. This focus may, however, have retarded our investigation of the more extensive populations and their ways, and consequently hindered cultural geography's engagement in some interesting and urgent kinds of work. I am sure that the idea of culture needs rethinking , in order that it may become a tool for larger tasks. The idea of the culture area as presented in the introductory essay likewise is outdated now. It was even then too static, resting as it did on work done many years before and all too much depending on the accidental circumstance of natural or political boundaries for its seeming validity. We could sometimes catch a glimpse of actual culture areas, but we did not really know what they were or how they worked. Henceforth it ought to be sufficient to pay due respect to those honorable ghosts of ancient culture that we so long took to be the real and living thing. We need not deny the persistence of the ghosts of Roman legionnaires and colonists in Germany and Libya, nor overlook the residues of all the other empires and associations that presided over great diffusions of ideas and goods and peoples. But, as I have argued elsewhere,3 "culture 3 Philip L. Wagner, "Cultural Landscapes and Regions: Aspects of Communication," in Paul W. English and Robert C. Mayfield, eds., Man, Space, and Environment. Concepts in Contemporary Human Geography (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1972), pp. 55-68. YEARBOOK · VOLUME 37 · 1975 9 area" can mean a much more essential and dynamic thing, an extended human population living in intense and regular communication : a community. I know of scarcely any geographic work that really takes the measure of a people bound together by their manifold communication systems. Cultural Landscape Again, the image of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1551-3211
Print ISSN
0066-9628
Pages
pp. 7-14
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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